Speech: CitySprouts 2013 Annual Gala and Fundraiser

I want to thank everyone for coming out tonight to support City Sprouts. I know that your time and resources are precious with many worthy competing claims laid on both. I also want to congratulate Jane Hirshi and her team for having the dedication and commitment to ensure that for the last 12 years children throughout Cambridge have had the experience of literally touching the earth, nurturing food from seed to table, and learning firsthand about the source of the food they consume. The opportunity to till soil, plant seeds, and grow food and plants has given our teachers and parents a new, rich dimension to teaching math, literacy, history, and science.

This is not insignificant. No matter where you stand on standardized testing, we all know that the number of minutes in a day educators have to work outside a structure pushing them to teach to the test has dwindled. When recess is reduced to 20 minutes a day, one must ask how we create space for children to breathe and learn, especially in an environment that is increasingly stressful and intense. City Sprouts reinforces the teaching of core subjects, while also transforming and transporting students to a simpler time and calmer space filled with curiosity and mysteries to be unlocked and understood.

As a mother and policy maker, I am also deeply appreciative of the opportunity to help children and families reconnect with the origins of healthy food. We live in a time where most of the food we consume is processed or genetically modified. We are not a healthy society. In fact, since 1980, obesity among American children has nearly tripled. Currently, 17 percent – or 12.5 million – children and adolescents aged 2- to 19-years-old are considered obese. With this increase comes innumerable health problems and chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, which saw an increase of 100 percent or more in 18 states between 1995 and 2010.

It’s hard to believe that not so long ago it was the norm that we didn’t have to shop at niche markets to purchase organic fruits and vegetables at higher costs than food that is now tampered with and modified. Yet in our children’s lifetimes, this experience is unique. Americans now eat more packaged foods per person than nearly any other country, and nearly 80 percent of those processed foods contain a genetically modified or engineered crop. In the ongoing debate about the cost of health care, we must question how this emerging model of food production and consumption affects not just us as individuals but as a society. New regulations regarding soda and sugar intake, for example, point to disturbing trends in consumption in which we must actually quantify how much sugar a day is too much. We like to tell ourselves it’s okay in moderation—but what defines moderation when the “new” norm is constantly moving further away from former consumption patterns. The role of government in regulating sugar intake is not an effort to restrict freedoms, but to hold individuals responsible and accountable for making better food choices for themselves, their families and the future. The rising rates of obesity and diabetes are putting an untenable strain on our nation’s budget and generations to come.

What City Sprouts is doing is profound, yet simple: It is teaching our children that our health and well-being is ours to own - that what we put in our bodies matters. The foods we choose matter and how they are grown is intertwined with this process. City Sprouts is teaching our children life skills in math, science, history, and literacy in a real world context that also empowers them to understand the keys to healthier living. My hopes for the graduates of City Sprouts is that we are also fostering leaders of today and tomorrow who will hold those in positions of power accountable for the new norms that sanction, regulate, or deregulate how and what we eat as well as start asking why we are not doing more to protect our food sources.

Congratulations on your ability to bring this very special and important program to the children and families of Lynn and Boston. For those of you here tonight, thank you for choosing City Sprouts. I hope you will continue to support this program and, by extension, choose to support the overall health and well-being of our communities. As you know, City Sprouts is not fully funded through school departments or city government. Your donation makes this program possible – it allows educators to incorporate this experience into their curriculum in new ways and youth to gain a potentially transformative perspective on their world.